BOOK REVIEW: The Willow Woman – by Laurence Westwood #buddyread

Title: The Willow Woman
(Philip Ye #1)

Author: Laurence Westwood
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
First published: January 7th 2019
Publisher: Shikra Press
Finished reading: August 8th 2019
Pages: 440

“He plays the game very well. But anyone who thinks Philip Ye is not his own master is blind. As a friend I would never turn my back on him, as an enemy I would never underestimate him.”

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*** First of all I have to say thank you to Kelly for introducing me to The Willow Woman and hosting a giveaway a while back and to the author Laurence Westwood for sending me a wonderful signed copy!! ❤ This hasn’t influenced my opinion about this book. ***

It doesn’t matter that there is a whole ocean and thousands of kilometres between us, thanks to the wonder of Twitter Nicki (Jersey in the Channel Islands) and myself (Argentina) are always able to make our buddy reads work. With only a few hours time difference, it was easy to catch up, discuss what was happening in the story, guess what would happen next and of course share the necessary photos of both book and the obligatory dose of sugar we found ourselves needing occasionally. 😉 It was without doubt another successful buddy read!! Make sure to read Nicki’s review as well if you want to find out exactly why and if we felt the same about this story.

I was curious about The Willow Woman as soon as I first saw Kelly mention it on her blog. I’m always in for a good detective thriller and the fact that the story has a (for me) foreign setting is a huge bonus. I haven’t had the chance to read many stories set in China before, and The Willow Woman was therefore a little goldmine filled with local culture. Oh yes, this story will transport you right to Chengdu with excellently elaborated descriptions of both the setting and Chinese culture in general. Both the local culture as well as the spirituality play a very important role in the development of the plot and the plot twists you will encounter along the way. Especially the spirituality was a very interesting touch, with many references to the spirit world and main character Philip Ye actually asking the spirits of the deceased to help him with the case. His beliefs are then contrasted in Xu Ya, who seems more pragmatic and doesn’t seem to believe in the paranormal. The inclusion of both Chinese culture and the paranormal aspect without doubt gave this detective story an unique twist and made this story stand out for me.

Another thing you notice almost straight away is just how complex this story is, and in a good way. While it’s true that the sheer amount of characters can be intimidating in the beginning, The Willow Woman has a very helpful index to check who is who and how they are related when in doubt. Trust me, you will find the index very helpful especially in the first couple of chapters! It will make juggling all those different characters so much easier and allows you to properly enjoy the story from the beginning. This story isn’t just complex due to the amount of characters though. The Willow Woman has an abundance of storylines and different point of views to revel in. These are used to build the plot and plot twists brick by brick and help you keep guessing about what is really going on. While it’s true that I made certain predictions about for example the professor and the boy that ended up being true quiet early on, there were also a lot of twists I could have never guessed. The story was getting more intriguing, complicated and intense by the minute and we both had to ease the tension with a dose of sugar more than once… Never underestimate the power of cake!

As for the characters… While there are a lot of them, the ones that stood out most for me (and won over my heart almost straight away) were probably Philip Ye, Xu Ya, Fatty Deng, Ma and Mouse. Each is well developed and plays an important role in this story, although the role of some might not seem as important straight away. I’m not sure I agreed with certain decisions of some characters, including Xu’s actions towards the ending, but that was more me biting my nails and shouting ‘why would you do that?!‘ rather than a reason to enjoy the story less. You will have to ready yourself for some intense moments, especially towards the explosive ending! But I really liked how everything was wrapped up. I also really appreciated how references to the so-called Willow Woman were incorporated into the plot and how this element was ultimately explained.

In short, The Willow Woman is both excellently written and well constructed; the intricate plot, foreign setting with insights in Chinese culture and spirituality, abundance of characters and what you can roughly call a conspiracy angle making for a most fascinating read. If you are a fan of detective thrillers and are looking for a story with an unique twist, you should definitely schedule yourself a meeting with Philip Ye.


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ARC REVIEW: The Year Of The Snake – by M.J. Trow #buddyread

Title: The Year Of The Snake
Author: M.J. Trow & Maryanne Coleman
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
First published: July 1st 2018
Publisher: Endeavour Media
Finished reading: June 24th 2018
Pages: 313

“There comes a time when even the luckiest of charms runs out.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Endeavour Media in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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!! Happy Publication Day !!

This was actually a buddy read with the wonderful Nicki @ Secret Library Book Blog… I’m so happy she asked me to read this title together, because I’m not sure how I would have made it to the end otherwise. Oh yes, let’s just say my encounter with this story wasn’t an entirely positive one. I was initially drawn to both the cover of The Year Of The Snake and the promise of a story set in ancient Rome. I was already familiar with the general details around Emperor Nero and his reputation, and I had high hopes for this story connected to him. Sadly, The Year Of The Snake turned out to be quite a disappointment for me, and I found especially the first half of the story to be quite weak. The promise of a good story is there, with a murder mystery, a cult and the ruthless Emperor, but the execution for me was lacking. Why? The first thing that stood out for me were the formatting problems, which made it harder to read the story. I can forgive those since it’s an ARC and not a final version, but still. I wasn’t a fan of the writing style and tone in general (including crude language) and the many many POV switches every other page made it a lot harder to keep track of the story and the different characters. In fact, I found the plot itself quite weak and chaotic and would have preferred a more ordered storyline with a lot less switches and more time to get used to each character. This would have made the story and plot a lot stronger for me. It also would have helped connecting to the characters in a more solid way, which as it is I wasn’t really able to do. To be honest, I found most characters to be rather flat and lacking a more detailed description… But. I do have to say things improved considerably in the second half of the story, after the investigation of Nerva’s death intensifies and we see just what Nero and his mother are actually made of. This higher level of suspense and intrigue being incorporated into the plot saved the story for me, and the final twist was quite a good one as well. All in all, whiile the story behind The Year Of The Snake sounds really promising, the execution needs a lot of editing for me to really work.

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When Senator Gaius Lucius Nerva dies a few days after he had taken ill at a dinner party, the recently freed slave Calidus is the only one to suspect it wasn’t a natural death. And as he organizes the funeral ceremonies, he becomes more and more convinced that his former master was murdered. Calidus starts an investigation, which is harder than it seems with his status as a freedman. And he sure is stepping on a lot of important toes to get to the truth…

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I was really looking forward to this one since I can’t seem to find that much historical fiction reads with an ancient Rome setting, but sadly this one didn’t hit the mark for me. While the general idea behind The Year Of The Snake sounds promising and has a lot of potential, I ended up struggling considerably with the story itself. Thanks again Nicki for making this ride more bearable! The story wasn’t all bad and has it’s positive points, especially in the second half when things become more intense. But between the chaotic feel, lack of proper plot, too many POV switches, crude language and lack of connection to both the writing style AND characters, it definitely wasn’t an easy read for me.


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BOOK REVIEW: Lilac Girls – by Martha Hall Kelly #buddyread

Title: Lilac Girls
Author: Martha Hall Kelly
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: April 5th 2016
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Finished reading: February 11th 2018
Pages: 487

“There was no storm gathering in the east that day, no portent of things to come. The only ominous sign from the direction of Europe was the scent of slack water wafting off the East River.”

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I know I have been saying for months I was going to pick up Lilac Girls, but even my TBR jar couldn’t help me doing so. That’s why I was stoked when Nicki @ Secret Library asked if I wanted to buddy read it: the perfect excuse to finally stop procrastinating and get the job done! I can definitely see why so many people seem to love this novel, and I’m glad I finally did pick it up. It did leave me with a huge book hangover though! Because there is one thing for sure, Lilac Girls doesn’t try to soften the emotional blows and sweeten the horrific facts of the holocaust. O no, you will get a full share of dreadfulness and shocking details of the happenings in the concentration camp Ravensbruck. Trigger warnings are in place for those with a weak stomach! Because especially the WWII camp scenes are both intense and gruesome.

Lilac Girls is divided into three different storylines and POVs, each contributing to the story in a different way. I had my doubts about how the different storylines would work together at first, but now I’ve finished it I can see the role of each one more clearly. I do have to say it took a long time for Caroline’s POV to fit into the story. Both the lack of this connection, the fact it took a long time warming up to her character and the romance made me enjoy her POV considerably less, although I do admit they were a perfect pitstop in between the intense Ravensbruck chapters. And Caroline’s chapters set after the war improved considerably. That’s why her POV ended up coming second place for me. My favorite POV by far was Kasia’s, not only because her storyline itself is fascinating, but her development and story as well. Emotional, heartbreaking, intense… Some chapters are not easy to read, but her POV is by far the strongest of the bunch. I really didn’t like Herta though, although I guess that is kind of natural with her being a camp doctor and doing the things she does? Still, I felt she was less developed than the other two and didn’t add as much to the story either. I guess she did serve as a perfect ‘tool’ to demonstrate the horrors of the holocaust and the ‘other’ side.

What that stood out for me is the fact that this story is actually based on true events and both Caroline and Herta did exist. (Kasia and her sister are close matches). This fact makes the story that much more fascinating and the impact of the horrific details that much stronger. The writing is very well done as well as the plot itself. And what I also loved is that Lilac Girls doesn’t just show us the events during WWII, like most novels with a similar theme do, but also show the aftermath and consequences for the persons involved. These final chapters (the latest set in 1957-1958) add a whole new level to the story and made this story that much more unique.

All in all, despite the fact that I initially didn’t like Caroline all that much and wasn’t sure of the romance in her POV, and despite the fact I couldn’t stand Herta as a character, I do think this is a fascinating historical fiction read. If you are a fan of the genre and can stomach the horrific facts of the holocaust, Lilac Girls is definitely for you.

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Caroline Ferriday works at the French consulate in New York, and has her hands full with her post. Then her world is changed forever when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939… And France might be next. Caroline has to work harder than ever to try and help all those people at the consulate. And some of the cases are rather too close to heart.

In Lublin, Kasia is a Polish teenager that decides to help the underground resistance movement after Hitler invaded Poland. Somehow the unthinkable happens and she is sent to Ravensbruck, the Nazi concentration camp for women. Will she be able to survive?

Young German doctor Herta wants to have a chance to show her talent and be seen as an equal to other male doctors, but this isn’t easy in Nazi Germany. When she sees an ad for a government medical position, she thinks it’s the chance to finally prove herself… But she ends up being trapped in a male-dominated Nazi concentration camp instead. She is still determined to reach her goal though…

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Lilac Girls is without doubt a story you will have to be in the mood for, because it is not an easy read. This historical fiction read will leave you emotionally drained and shock as you try to assimilate the many horrific facts and happenings in the Ravensbruck camp… No doubt excellent research and well written, but not for the weak hearted. Thankfully the Caroline chapters are there to bring some relief of the horrors… And the final part set after the war will help you breathe again as well. No doubt a great read, even if it did leave me with a book hangover!


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